Willem-Dirk du Toit – Surf Photographer

When did you first learn to surf and how old were you?

I grew up in a town called Paarl in the Western Cape of South Africa. We used to go on holiday to Hermanus 150km south from there. I always saw the surfers and the body boarders in the surf and found my brothers old boogie board under the house.  I would paddle out without fins or anything, just trying to get amongst it. I learned very quickly that I couldn’t do anything without fins or without knowing what the sea is all about. 

I started asking around how to get involved and learn these secrets of the sea. Before I knew it I was boogie boarding like a frog on toast and building wave knowledge at a rapid pace. It’s a bit embarrassing to say I learnt through dick dragging but oh well. Everyone has to learn somehow right?

When I reached high school I made some great friends with these crazy guys on the west coast. They got their kicks by finding the biggest close out shore breaks that they could find. I resisted for a while but soon they taught me to lose my fear about the ocean. Maybe it was just peer pressure but I’m grateful for what these guys from Saldanha gave me. 

From there it sort of developed a bit randomly, my sister made me a bet when I was 16. She wanted to learn to surf and challenged me by saying she would surf before I would.  We got two cheap surfboards as hand-me-downs, and we started going at it. I remember it took me about a full month, doing pushups every day, before I finally popped up. That moment changed my life forever.   

It was very hard in South Africa, as a young boy, to surf because surfing wasn't that big where I was. It was more the older guys that did it or kids who were lucky enough to have their dads take them out. The biggest problem for us was wherever we went up the west coast, was really remote. We would always have to hitchhike to surf spots and ended up making it there but never making it back. No one would pick us up in these remote fishing villages at night and then we’ll have to find a payphone to call someone’s mom to pick us up. The problem with surfboards was that no one would give you a lift, because it wouldn't fit in their car.

So there was a short period there where I had to ditch the surfboard and I was gutted about it. We knew some of the most amazing breaks and there was no way of getting there, hitchhiking, as a boy, with a surfboard.


So how did you come to be doing photography?

I’d like to say it just naturally came to me but it’s not true. There was no photography subject in my school like kids get here in Australia but we had a teacher who was a part time photographer when I was 15. He was very keen and organized a photography club after hours once a month for other avid amateurs where kids could get together to show their photos.

 He saw that myself and another mate had good talent, or maybe just had a dad’s cameras, and he made us the school photographers. We had to shoot action photos of kids running, or jumping pole vault, playing rugby etc. We didn't think much of it at the time. We were just really obsessed with the science and the technique of photography.

 Later I was told that I should really take my photography further and I ended up doing my degree in photography after I finished school.

 Photo by Willem-Dirk de Toit

What sort of photography do you do?

I'm a commercial advertising photographer. There’s a lot of guys that survive doing art and sports photography in the surfing realm, but the way I’ve set myself up is for commercial services doing commercial and advertising work.

It gives me a variety of work and gives me quite a lucrative business.

I worked for a well respected ad agency in Melbourne for just over four years. About two years ago after losing a family member I felt I needed change I thought, "Okay, what's my freedom. What do I want to do? I realized, I just want to surf as much as I can but I can't just surf. I need to involve my career with my biggest passions, my biggest hobby.” So this is where the surf photography came in.


So have you always taken pictures of the surf?

It was always casual and was more just to show to my friends and say, “Look how big it was” or “Look how beautiful the surf was”.  I found it really hard to sit with the camera for very long on the beach. When the surf is coming up and clean off shore winds blow, it's extremely hard to watch and document and not run in with a board and froth out. This is also why I prefer shooting from the water. It’s a lot more of a physical challenge.   

In my days as a body boarder we used to draw straws about who’s gonna have to sit with the video camera on the side and shoot, and it was the worst thing, right. But now in retrospect, it laid the foundations of what I do now with my surf photography.

 Photo by Willem-Dirk du Toit

How did your involvement with Gill and Babes on Waves come about?

I’ve always wanted to have an excuse to shoot surfing and be in the waves with a camera. I realized that there’s a lot of big wave, aggressive looking, male dominant surf pics in the surf realm and I did not want to just do what everyone else do.  

Gill Hutchison and I started surfing together and we kept talking about ideas on different platforms, what we can do and decided on Babes on Waves.

What I try to do with Babes on Waves is tie in the personality of people, show their faces and their character. Show where they live, how they live, their passion for surfing, and then of course, their surfing as well.

It’s a platform where all surfers can be featured, not just the top pro people.

The main inspiration, is getting the girl next door to see it, feel inspired, and realise they can do it too. We shoot some girls that haven't been doing it for that long and has become very good, very quickly.

You just have to get over your fears and get out there!


Are you doing any surf photography outside of Babes on Waves?

I'd like to push the surf photography further, and do some magazine articles and and find stories. I just had an article published about an artist called Will Mackinnon in The Surfer’s Journal, which I'm very happy with. It’s my first article as a surf photographer, even though it's not about surfing. Still stoked.

My commercial work has always been my income. I do a lot of architectural and automotive work at the moment.

But ideally the dream would be to start traveling around properly, interviewing and shooting people and telling some great stories. Also perhaps getting a sponsor involved with Babes on Waves. 


What's your favourite surf spot?

I love lefts, but in Victoria there's mostly rights everywhere. In Victoria, one of my favorite surf spots is Cathedral Rock. There's another little spot I surf almost all the time, it's one of the most beautiful spots, called Spout Creek. It's not the biggest wave on earth, but it’s my favorite surf spot. Sadly the banks have washed away and it hasn’t worked for a while now. I actually did a shoot with Belinda Baggs there for BOW! Got an amazing shot of her nose riding with the big, green hill behind her. You can see it on Babes on Waves.


What kind of surfboard do you have?

Well, I've got a bad reputation for breaking boards a lot. I've had a lot of boards, and at the moment, I literally have only one board. 

I really liked performance long boarding and had a McTavish F4, but then I got sick of the fact that I couldn't nose ride it well. So now I've been using Gill's long board, which is a semi performance board, the nose is a lot bigger, there's a little bit more surface area and it goes quite concave on the nose.

I’ve been surfing a Lee Stacey board called the Neptune’s ride and it’s an amazing board. It’s the smallest board I've surfed, but has changed my surfing so much. 

I’m picking up two boards from a shaper called "Dutchie" in South Africa. He's a local surfer and has taken the Cape Town surf scene by storm. He has made me a 9’1” log and a 6’10” step up from my small Stacey board. It’s really exciting. I got this great artist Rudi De Wet to do the artwork on them. I’ve been in the studio photographing them and they look great. And of course they surf really well.


You can find Willem-Dirk at these locations:

Web:  willem-dirk.com and babesonwaves.net
Facebook: facebook.com/WillemDirkduToit


Posted by: Christina Niemi, on September 24, 2015
Categories: Interviews